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Boston's city, charter, Catholic schools sing praises of $3.25m grant to aid year-old partnership

Posted by Matt Rocheleau  December 5, 2012 03:28 PM

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(Matt Rocheleau for Boston.com)

About 100 students from three schools in Brighton – the Edison K-8, Conservatory Lab Charter and St. Columbkille – performed a series of instrumental and vocal pieces for classmates, teachers, parents and local leaders Wednesday morning.

The concert not only showcased the young musicians’ talent but also illustrated some of the results of a historic, year-old partnership between Boston’s public school system, charter schools and Catholic schools.

The gathering celebrated a major financial boost for the innovative collaboration. On Wednesday, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced it will give a $3.25 million grant to foster the partnership, formally called the Boston Compact. Only seven US cities received one of the competitive grants in this round, officials said.

“The purpose of this compact is to educate all of the students of the city of Boston,” Kevin Andrews, the compact’s co-chair and head of the Neighborhood House Charter School, told the crowd after the school children performed.

“We don’t have to compete anymore,” said Rev. Gregory G. Groover, Sr., pastor of the Charles Street AME Church and chairman of the Boston School Committee. “We don’t have to feud. We can fuel each other.”

“It almost brought tears to my eyes,” he said after the concert.

Using a variety of wind, string, brass and percussion instruments, the students with varying levels of experience played songs such as Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” and John Higgins’ “Hard Rock Blues,” before the youngest group of performers, after just one day of rehearsal, sang "Walk A Mile In My Shoes" by Joe South and ended with "Dreams of Harmony" by Joanne Hammil.

Thirteen-year-old Elizabeth Wong, an eighth-grader at the Edison school who plays guitar, said she has enjoyed being able to mix and work with students from the other two schools.

“It’s more fun because we can all learn about what we do,” she said. “It’s interesting because you get to see how they work.”

Officials said the compact between the three types of school is advancing education. And students said it’s also fostering new friendships.

Edison eighth-graders Mohamad Okar, a 14-year-old who plays bass and drums, and Sun-Hei Bamfo, a 13-year-old who plays flute, said they’ve each made a few friends at the other schools.

Okar has applied to the Boston Arts Academy, which he hopes to attend next fall. He said he has especially enjoyed being able to meet with students at the music-focused Conservatory Lab Charter School.

“I like working with them to make music,” he said.

His principal, Mary Driscoll, told the audience that the partnership has helped boost arts opportunities at the Edison.

“The arts are not just an extracurricular,” she said. “The arts are how we are going to move our students forward.”

Since the compact’s launch, all 128 city-run district schools, the city’s 16 charter schools and 22 Catholic schools have signed on to the partnership, which represents 88 percent of school children in Boston, city officials said.

The Gates Foundation grant will allow the compact to train 250 teachers and administrators to improve instruction for English language learners, which city officials said is the fastest growing population of students in Boston.

“These cities understand that opening the lines of communication and sharing best practices across schools are an effective way to do that,” Vicki Phillips, director of education for the foundation, said of the seven grant recipients. “They have moved beyond the question of whether charters or district schools are better and are working together to benefit all students in these communities.”

The grant will also support efforts to accelerate performance for black and Latino boys, and it will support an ongoing effort to coordinate and simplify the school enrollment process, officials said.

And, the funding will help launch three more school performance partnerships, like the one between the Edison, Conservatory Lab Charter and St. Columbkille schools, which plan to share in professional development, techniques of analyzing student data and other initiatives.

“This award will help all our schools work together to ensure every child gets a great education,” said a statement from Mayor Thomas M. Menino.

The city said that in the compact’s first year, it has created changes including: teachers and administrators from the three school types who regularly visit each other’s classrooms to learn best practices and to improve literacy instruction.

“We launched this compact in part so our great teachers can share what they have learned around educating all students,” said Boston Superintendent Carol R. Johnson said in a statement.

The schools are also moving toward a common enrollment calendar and have established shared school showcase events to make it easier for families to compare and chose schools, officials said.

“Catholic schools joined this compact to share our best practices and learn from our public and charter school peers,” said a statement from Mary Grassa O’Neill, superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Boston.

“We believe it is essential for all students in the city of Boston to receive a rigorous education, and collaboration among schools is crucial in this endeavor,” she said. “This partnership helps to ensure a bright future.”

For more information about the compact, visit http://bostoncompact.weebly.com.

E-mail Matt Rocheleau at mjrochele@gmail.com.
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